The Ones Who Stay Silent
Written by: Eli Baum
While 34.2% of the student body cares about politics a lot, only 7.8% say that they are very involved. More than 25 percent of the student body cares deeply about politics but doesn’t take action. It’s hard to find a Packer student who does not keep their political views in a special place in their hearts, but only a portion of them have actually stood up and taken action. So what do those who are activists see differently? And why don’t opinionated people engage in politics?
One reason is that most people put politics aside as they go about their daily life. As Semeka Smith-Williams, Director of Diversity and Equity, puts it, “We ask a lot of people to leave who they are at the front door and just be a student, or just be a teacher, or just work as a member of the staff in the kitchen, as opposed to thinking about what happens in the world.”
Even those who care about politics constantly put it aside in order to live their lives normally. Between school, homework, sleep, and extracurriculars, it is hard to find time and mental energy to focus on politics. In an anonymous survey sent to The Upper School about their political involvement, many students said that the reason they have not gotten involved is because they “don’t have time,” are “too busy,” or “have too much other stuff to do than be the next Drew Myers.”
In other words, students have to choose between having politics embedded in everything they do or sacrificing their impact. But the difference with activists is that rather than putting politics on hold to make room for everything else in their lives, they focus on politics throughout everything they do. Abe Rothstein (‘21) who organized two of last year’s gun walk outs, says “I feel like politics now kind of plays a role in most things I do. This has kind of changed my way of acting in regular, everyday life.” People like Abe Rothstein, who chose to take action, allow their political beliefs to pervade every aspect of their lives rather than confining it to specific moments.
However, there are people who are still passionate about politics but do not get involved for other reasons.
Students are angry but don’t feel empowered to change the world. When people become involved in politics, they take a leap of faith, and hope that what they are doing is going to have an affect on people’s lives. Those who don’t engage in politics are simply unwilling to take that leap of faith. Eric Berg (‘21) does not engage in politics at all and says that “It doesn’t really matter what you do; things just are going to happen.”
People in modern society have become accustomed to a system where, as Semeka Smith Williams puts it, we see that “there was an action, there was a response.” In politics, however, this impact is not always present. She says that “It’s hard to see that making phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods, passing out flyers is going to yield that result.” Only those who are willing to play by the rules of a system where your actions don’t necessarily have a result end up engaged in politics.
The final and possibly biggest reason people don’t get involved is that they cannot find a way to channel their rage into something productive. Semeka Smith Williams thinks that “there are a lot of people who see injustice in our world, are upset about it, and not sure how to proceed.” Being in a blue bubble, it sometimes takes more work for New Yorkers to find a way to make their voice feel impactful. But some people reach a breaking point at which they feel they have to act.
Frayda Lieber (‘21) says that she decided to canvass for democratic candidates in the midterms because she was “tired of saying ‘this sucks, this sucks, this sucks,’ and [was] ready to do something about it.”
The people who decide to take action see so many problematic things going on that they can’t just sit back and be angry anymore, so they decide to take action. Frayda Lieber continued, saying “you can scream and stomp all you want, but that’s not really gonna help anybody, so I’m being productive about it.”
When students have to choose between politics and everything else in their lives, they choose everything else because they feel they can’t make a difference. The combination of a lack of empowerment and the business of students’ everyday lives leads them to stay silent. The ones who speak up do it because they are willing to take a leap of faith and believe that what they do will have an impact. They are the ones who don’t stay silent. They are the ones who speak up.